Tag Archives: (culture) Ottoman

Book Review: Ottoman Embroidery – 4 Books

BOOK REVIEW: Ottoman Embroidery and Friends – 4 Books

(article originally published in Fall 2004, Ironmonger, Barony of Iron Bog)

At the moment there are three Ottoman Embroidery books available In-Print; a wonderful boom to Middle Eastern embroideriers, or so you would think.  While the Ottoman empire started in the fourteen century, with its roots in the eleventh century, all of the books start covering the embroidery in the very late sixteenth century.  Out of the over four hundred illustrations, there is only thirteen photos between all three books from SCA period.

Each book has its own strengths.  “Ottoman Embroidery” by Marianne Ellis has the most SCA era pictures.  “Flowers of Silk and Gold” is the only book with pictures of people wearing clothes and has the best close-ups.  “Ottoman Embroidery” by Roderick Taylor gives the most historical detail, including descriptions on how the embroidery was actually used in day-to-day life.

But if you want a book on how to do period Middle Eastern embroidery, “Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt” is your best bet.  It covers Egyptian needlework until it is conquered by the Ottoman Empire.  Of the four books reviewed, this is the only one worth adding to your embroidery book collection.

I should note that at Pennsic, I attended a class on Ottoman Garments under false pretenses (not caring at all about the clothing).  Joy of joys, the teacher dumped his collection of books before us and I missed most of the lecture pawing through them hoping against hope to find something, anything about the embroidery.  Among his hoard was “Ipek: The Crescent & The Rose.”  I have ordered the book and am awaiting its arrival.  Once it is read, I will let you know if it fills the void these books left gaping.


Ottoman Embroidery. Marianne Ellis and Jennifer Wearden. V&A Publications: London.  2001.

Far from the definitive book on Ottoman embroidery, this book is strangely disappointing despite beautiful full color photographs of uncommon embroidery pieces.  Drawing exclusively from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection on this mid-eastern embroidery style, it is limited to showing pieces that have migrated to England.  While the Ottoman Empire started in the fourteenth century, the earliest piece shown in the book is from the sixteenth century, the start of the (friendly) English interest in the Turkish domain.  The Empire ruled until the twentieth century.

Two hundred years of primary interest for a SCAdian, when the style of embroidery was developing, is missing.  In addition, the one century from SCA period only has a meager nine illustrations of the 155 vibrant color plates.  The photo section takes up a vast majority of the content of the book, devoting a full nine-by-twelve page to nearly every picture.  The book opens with a nine-page overview of the history of the Ottoman Empire and the place of embroidery within its borders; a pleasing quick, informative read.  It closes with an eight-page chapter on the techniques they used to create the embroidery.  Using this chapter and the excellent photographic representations from the previous section, an embroider may be able to recreate a sixteenth century embroidery using pattern darning, THE embroidery form of the Ottoman Empire, if s/he have some experience in the technique to aid in figuring out the fairly confusing how-to diagrams.

Applications:  Ottoman History.  Embroidery technique of pattern darning.
Costs: List Price $45.00.


Ottoman Embroidery.  Roderick Taylor.  Interlink Books: New York.  1993.

This well-structured book has excellent chapter breakdown:  History of the Ottoman Empire, Design & Patterns, Materials (describing ground fabrics and embroidery materials that were used), Techniques (description of stitches, but no instructions on how to do them), Collections (giving a long list of museums which have Ottoman embroidery), and the Embroideries themselves.  Anything they embroidered is covered: clothing items (described down to size and construction), home objects (including bedding) and larger embroideries (such as tents).  I loved the two pages regarding dyes and the section on prayer rugs, plus an interesting bit of about a page on the textile guilds found within the Empire (weavers, dyers, embroiders, etc.).  I found the section on ceremonial textiles, and the ceremonies they were made for, abruptly brief.

The major lack of the book is hard dates.  At one point early on, the author mentions that there wasn’t much change in the embroidery in six hundred years, and then throughout the book, mentions minor changes happening.  I ended up having to create a timeline of the Ottoman Empire in order to figure out what happened within SCA period.

There are 140 color photographs, not displayed in date order, with each embroidery shown given size, materials, stitch and an approximate date (usually something along the lines of  “before 1700”).  Only four pictures are close-up enough to see the stitches in the fabric and only two of the pictures definitely come from SCA period.  There is a quilt-facing opposite the title page with the description under the copyright information on the back of the title page, very easy to miss. The best picture, for which I would recommend checking out this book thru interlibrary loan to view if you are interested, is of a tent from 1525; this richly decorated tent is a jewel.

Applications: Ottoman History.  Maybe dyes, Ottoman clothing, guilds.
Costs:  Checked out thru interlibrary loan.  A number of libraries in NJ have the book.  Available through Barnes and Nobel for $30 (a sales price).


Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroideries.  Sumru Belger Krody.  Merrell Publications in association with The Textile Museum: Washington, DC.  2000.

This book is a hollow joy for an SCA embroiderer.  Lavishly illustrated with over 100 crisp color photographs, it has only two illustrations from SCA period; neither of which is of exceptional note.  One is of an embroidery, the other is from the Codex Vindobonensis (dated 1590) showing a miniature of ladies sitting in the Harem.  The book was specifically written to chronicle urban Ottoman embroidery from the 17th century to the 20th.

Focusing on the Textile Museum Collection in Washington DC, half the book forms a catalogue with fifty-seven extent pieces, each item having a beautiful picture and description including thread count, dimensions, embroidery style and materials involved.  The balance of the book is broken into three sections:  a brief history of the Ottoman Empire, methods of embroidery production, and designs found in the embroidery.

The best parts of the book, from an embroidery standpoint, is the glossary with several illustrations on how to do some of the more obscure stitches, and the chapter on Makers and Methods which has a number of close-ups of embroideries, allowing a viewer to see the individual stitches.  The map showing the borders of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century is worthy of note.

Unless you actually need to see how the stitches are formed, this book useless to a SCAdian.  If you must view it, check it out through interlibrary loan.

.Applications: Ottoman History.  Embroidery stitches
Costs:  Borrowed from Lady Cellach.  List Price $45.00.


Embroiders and samplers from Islamic Egypt.  Marianne Ellis.  Ashmolean Museum: Oxford, England.  2001.

The collection covered in this book was donated by Percy Newberry to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and contains over 1,000 fragments.  Sixty-six full color pictures were taken of the best of the surviving pieces covering the Tulunid (868-905 AD), the Fatamid (969-1171 AD), the Ayyubid (1172-1249 AD) and the Mamluk periods (1250-1517 AD).  With each picture comes a description giving the thread count of the fabric for both weft and warp, the material of the fabric and thread, the color and twist of the thread, what the original purpose of the embroidery is suspected to be, the size of the surviving piece, and the date of the item.  Most of the dates are guessed based on the design and materials of the embroidery, but some of the pieces have been radiocarbon dated.

This book will spoil you on all further extent embroidery books.  The only thing missing is the diagram of the stitches, but there are plenty of “how-to” books on the market to cover this lack.  The four-page introduction covers how the collection was gathered and a very, very brief historical discussion.  The “must-have” aspect of this book is related to the details shared on each extent piece it covers.  If you are an embroider, and have the basics for your collection, this book is an excellent next-step for specializations.  Most of the embroideries of this book are pattern darning, but there are other counted forms, a few free pieces, some couched items, open work, appliqué and one padded work piece.

Applications:  Egyptian personas (868 to 1517).  Embroidery.
Costs: Available on-line new in hardback and softback, be careful to purchase in the format you want.

Ottoman Empire Timeline

Ottoman Empire Timeline

(article originally published in Fall 2004, Ironmonger, Barony of Iron Bog)

At is height, the Ottoman Empire governed 250,000 square miles and eight million people.  It started forming in the thirteenth century, underwent huge expansion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries reaching the limits of its power and strength, and ended in the twentieth century after three hundred years of slow deconstruction.  For six hundred years, it was between Europe and Asia and any trade between these two areas first had to go through the Empire, including much of the Silk Route.

Below is a timeline of its expansion and decline.  Extremely important events and reigns are bolded.  When there is more than one spelling of the ruler’s name, both spellings are provided.

*****              9th and 10th Centuries.  Turks are converted to Islam.

1055          The first of the Turkish groups, the Seljuk Turks, take control of Baghdad and create their own kingdom, the Kingdom of Rum.  They create principalities within this empire-kingdom as other Turkish groups follow.

1071          Seljuk Turks attack the Byzantine Empire, and defeat them at Manzikert, capturing the Emperor Romanus Digenes.  In addition, they capture Jerusalem, upsetting long established trade and pilgrimage routes.

1099          The first Crusade.  Jerusalem is recaptured by Godfrey de Bouillion.

1204          The fourth Crusade goes a bad and stops before reaching the holy lands.  Instead, they sack Constantinople.  The Franks involved in the Crusades then establish themselves in Greece, Aegean, Cyprus and Syria, weakening these lands.

1240          Oghuz Turks are given a principality by the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia.  Tulips grow wild in this area, hence the long interest by the Ottomans in Tulips.  Toğrull was one of the rulers.

1250          Mamluk Turks begin their rule of Egypt

1290-1326       Osman I – the 1st sultan (first independent ruler of his line, the Ottoman Empire is named after him); son of Toğrull who ruled under the Seljuk Turks.  Born in 1259; died in 1326.

1299          According to Tradition – The Oghuz Turks, under the rule of Osman I, end tributary payments to the Seljuk empire, becoming independent.  (This is not actually true; they continued to make payments of some sort until 1335.)

1307          Death of Ala-ud-din Kaikobad, ruler of the Seljuk Turks. The Seljuk Turk empire starts dissolving.

1326          Sultan Osman I and Orhan, his son, capture Bursa from the Seljuk Turks, establishing the first capital.

1326-1359       Orkhan I/Orhan I – the 2nd sultan; son of Osman I.  Organizer and administrator of the Empire. By his death, the Empire was a mature government, having its own coinage and could dictate some policy to the Byzantine emperors.

1352          Suleiman (son of Orkhan, the 2nd sultan though he never became sultan in his own right (there is a later Sultan named Suleiman)) captures Çimpse in Gallipoli.  This is the first Ottoman conquest in Europe.

1359-1389   Murad I – the 3rd sultan; son of Orkhan I

1361          Sultan Murad I captures Edirne, continuing the surrounding of Constantinople.

1388          Venetians sign treaty for trade privileges.

1389          Battle of Kossovo – Sultan Murad I defeats a coalition of Serbs, Bulgars, Bosnians, Wallachians and Albanians, but is assassinated after the battle.

1389-1402       Bayazid I – the 4th sultan; son of Murad I

1402-1413     Split of Empire between Bayazid’s sons in particular, Mohammed who came to rule the Asiatic possessions after defeating Musa, and Suleiman who rule the European territories.

1413-1421     Mohammed I (the Restorer) – the 5th sultan; son of Bayazid

1413     After Suleiman is defeated and killed, Mohammed I rules with complete sovereignty. Spends most of his reign consolidating power.

1421-1451     Murad II – the 6th sultan

1451-1481     Mohammed II (the Conqueror) – the 7th sultan; son of Murad. Was twenty-one when he became Sultan.

1453          May 29, 1453 – The Fall of Constantinople – The Ottomans capture Constantinople.  Because the city had been the center of everything for so long, most people of the area referred to it simply as “the City”, or in the Greek of the area “stin Poli”.  The City was renamed Istanbul and becomes the capital for the growing empire.

1461          Greece is conquered, taken from the Franks of the long-ago crusade.

1479          Treaty of Constantinople.  Venetians admit defeat after several wars over a period of fifty years with the Ottomans.  They give up several cities and thereafter had to pay an annual tribute to trade in the Black Sea.  They continued to fight the Ottomans every chance they got.

1481-1512     Bayazid II – the 8th sultan; son of Mohammed II

1505     Palace Registry of 1505 – The first of three known registries, including textiles, of the Topkapi Palace

1512-1520     Selim I (the Grim) – the 9th sultan; son of Bayazid II; Became Sultan after a civil war with his brothers and forcing his father to abdicate.

1517          Mamluk Empire, which had been ruled by the Mamluk Turks since 1250, is conquered.  The captured lands include Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and most of Arabia including the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.  The Ottoman Empire now rule most of the Islamic world.

1520-1566     Suleiman I (the Magnificent, also called the Great) – the 10th sultan; son of Selim I. The Empire is believed to reached its height.

1526          Hungry is conquered.

1529          First attempt to take Vienna. Failed because of bad weather.

1560          Dutch start to cultivate Tulips.

1566          Conquest of Chios, Italy by Sultan Suleiman I.

1566-1574     Selim II (the Sot) – the 11th sultan; son of Suleiman I

1566          Failed to capture Malta.

1570     Palace Registry of 1570 – The second of three known registries, including textiles, of the Topkapi Palace

1571     Battle of Lepanto. Ottoman fleet defeated by combined fleets of Spain, Genoa and Venice.  The allied fleets had 208 galleys and the Turks 230 galleys.  The Empire had 80 sunk, 110 captured and 40 saved, but they had enough rebuilt within a year that countries were hesitant to fight them again.

1574-1595     Murad III – the 12th sultan; son of Selim II

1578          England sends its first trade mission to Turkey.

1581          The Levant Company is formed in England.  Similar in nature to the East India company, only focused on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire.  Lasts until 1807.

1585          Expelled from Persia by the Safarid Shahs.

1593     Sultan Murad III sends presents to Queen Elizabeth

1595-1603     Mohamed III – the 13th sultan; son of Murad III

*****              End of 16th Century – Estimated 20 to 30 million people within the Ottoman Empire.  In comparison, France had 16 million and Spain had 8 million.

1683          Siege of Vienna. Final attempt to take Vienna. Marks end of expansion in Europe.

1697          Ottoman army defeated near Belgrade by Austria.  For first time, the Empire must admit defeat and negotiate for peace. (see 1699)

1699          January 26, 1699 – the Treaty of Kalowitz.  Croatia, Slovenia, Transylvania and much of Hungry is transferred from the Ottoman Empire to the Holy League (Austria, Poland, Venice and Russia).

1703-1730     Ahmed III – the 23rd sultan – Obsessed with Tulips. His reign became known as Lele Devri (“the tulip era”).

1719-1722       Dwindling power forces the Ottoman Empire to start treating the European powers as equals. Ambassadors are sent to major cities: Vienna in 1719, Paris in 1720 and Moscow in 1722.

1724          First printed book in Ottoman-Turkish language.

1807          In England, the Levant Company dissolves.

1821-1829       Greek War of Independence.

1829          Treaty of Adrianople.  Greece gains independence from the Empire.  Serbia is likewise granted autonomy.

1829     Dress Reforms – Introduction of European Dress into the Ottoman Courts

1874          Financial collapse – the Empire can only pay half interest on its debt.

1876          December 23, 1876 – First Ottoman Constitution.

1877          March 19, 1877 – First Ottoman Parliament meets.

1878          Parliament falters.  Sultan Abdul Hamid II doesn’t facilitate its continuance and also ignores the Constitution.

1879     Egypt falls under British control

1909          April 26, 1909 – Sultan Abdul Hamid is deposed by the Parliament he worked so hard to ignore.  He is sent into exile.

1909          Constitution and parliament restored.

1914-1918       The Great War – Turkey defeated by Allies.  (see 1920)

1918-1920     Mohamed VI/Mehmed VI – the 36th and last ruling sultan

1920          Treaty of Sèvres.  Sultan Mehmed VI must sign.  What is left of the Empire is dismembered.

1922     Mustafa Kemal Pasham/Kemal Atatürk, leader of the army, seizes power and becomes the first president in 1923, abolishing the sultanate.

1923          October 29, 1923 – Creation of the Republic of Turkey.  Official end of the Ottoman Empire

1923          Arab script is abolished by law.  Turkish language must be written in Latin characters.

1924          Treaty of Lausanne.  Present boundaries of Turkey are established.


Colier’s Encyclopedia.  “Osman I (Othman I)”, “Osman II”, & “Ottoman Empire”.  Crowell-Collier Publishing Company: Great Britian. 1965.

Ellis, Marianne & Jennifer Wearden.  Ottoman Embroidery.  V&A Publications: London. 2001.

Langer, William L. (editor).  An Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronolgically Arranged.  Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston.  1952 copyright.  1960 printing.

Taylor, Roderick.  Ottoman Embroidery.  Interlink Publishing Group: New York.  1993.